COMMENTARY: Some dictionaries define chutzpah as shameless audacity or impudence.
Near that definition in every dictionary should be a photo of U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah.
Bishop recently was instrumental in allowing the effective Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to expire in September, despite wide bipartisan support for the program.
Now, just a few weeks ago, Bishop introduced a Land and Water Conservation bill he has branded as a “fix” to the venerable conservation program that had invested $300 million in over 1,000 New Mexico parks projects over 50 years.
Unfortunately, Bishop’s “fix” is merely a thinly veiled attempt to finally kill LWCF once and for all.
Why Bishop’s bill is a bad deal for public lands and for New Mexico? It would effectively eviscerate the fund’s use for establishing shared public outdoor places and protecting increasingly precious water resources in the American West, allowing only half of one percent of the fund (Yes, 0.005 percent!) to be used for this purpose. The ability of the fund to set aside and protect public lands in the West was a cornerstone’s of the LWCF’s success and the sustainable growth of the Western economy over the past 50 years. This proposal by Rep. Bishop would be laughable if it wasn’t so insulting.
Also, Bishop’s “LWCF rewrite” diverts LWCF funds that currently go to parks, trails, and recreation facilities to promote offshore energy exploration, which has nothing to do with the original intent of LWCF.
Finally, this bad bill diverts other LWCF funds that should go to land and water conservation efforts to unrelated projects, such as the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. PILT is important because it helps fund rural governments, but stealing from LWCF to fund it does a grave disservice to both of these important programs.
Clearly, Bishop’s bill is disastrous for anyone who values public lands, outdoor recreation, and passing along an outdoor heritage to future generations of New Mexico.
LWCF was established in 1965 and has been funded from royalties derived from off-shore drilling. In New Mexico it not only funded local parks and ball fields in every single county, it also helped preserve iconic New Mexico spots such as the Valles Caldera, Chaco Canyon, El Camino Real, Tent Rocks and parts of the Organ Mountains. These are places generations of American families enjoy because they are protected.
As a pro-business group, we recognize the raw economic value of protecting these public lands. In New Mexico, we understand the value of the outdoor economy, which supports 68,000 direct jobs and is responsible for $6.1 billion annually in economic impact. We know protected public lands mean lots of green for many New Mexico businesses.
That’s part of what makes the expiration of LWCF such a tragedy. It’s what also makes Rob Bishop’s LWCF “fix” bill such a cruel joke played on every New Mexican who uses our public lands to recreate or make a living.
Thankfully our U.S. Sens. Udall and Heinrich and Reps. Luján and Lujan-Grisham have apparently seen through Rob Bishop’s cynical attempt to pull the wool over our eyes.
They get that Rob Bishop does not share our values. He doesn’t seem to understand that we support protected public lands and view them as an asset. Bishop’s chutzpah is an affront to any New Mexican who has enjoyed our public lands, hunted, fished or even just played ball in a city park built with LWCF funds. Guess what? That’s most of us.
And now, because of the machinations of a Utah congressman with an ax to grind, all New Mexicans who enjoy our lands or make a living in the outdoor economy could suffer. We all have an interest in reinstating the LWCF. We must now let our voices be heard and oppose Bishop’s terrible bill.
Merlino, of Santa Fe, is executive director of the New Mexico Partnership for Responsible Business.